Black Composers Series: The Complete Album Collection

Release Date: 1/18/2019
Label: Masterworks
Catalog Number: 19075862152
Conductor: Paul Freeman
Number of Discs: 10

Physical Format:

CD
In Stock
$36.99
Notes and Editorial Reviews

In the 1970s, CBS Masterworks made a groundbreaking series of recordings featuring the music of black composers. The nine LPs released all featured the pioneering conductor Paul Freeman. Sony Classical is proud to reissue the complete Black Composer Series in a single original album collection with each CD remastered from the original analogue tapes. The composers featured span several centuries and come from many different backgrounds. A bonus tenth album features Hale Smith’s Symphonic Spirituals, arrangements of 12 spirituals for voice and orchestra originally released by Paul Freeman in 1979. The many superb performers in this collection include the London Symphony Orchestra, the Baltimore and Detroit Symphony Orchestras and the Juilliard String Quartet. But is it the composers, many still little known today, who are the true stars of this milestone collection.

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REVIEW:

In 1974 Columbia Masterworks, in association with the Afro-American Music Opportunities Association, launched a Black Composer Series. Nine LPs eventually appeared, all devoted to mostly world-premiere recordings of works by composers of color spanning nearly two centuries. Apparently no effort was spared to ensure world-class results regarding research, preparation, and performance, and the series met with almost universal critical acclaim. Sony/BMG now brings these recordings together for the first time on CD, transferred from the original multi-track masters and packaged in original jacket format. The collection also includes a no less valuable bonus disc of symphonic spiritual arrangements, highlighted by the late Barbara Jordan’s stirring presence as a narrator. Today Columbia’s mid-1970s sonics sound a bit dry and claustrophobic, yet, if anything, the heightened analytic clarity further underlines the indisputable care and commitment that conductor Paul Freeman brought to these scores.

The earliest-born composers hold fascination in that one would be hard pressed to ascertain their identity without a score card, so to speak. For example, the Guadeloupe-born Parisian Joseph Boulogne Saint-Georges (1745-1799) may have been a younger contemporary of Haydn, yet his attractively tuneful style harks back to an earlier “classicism in embryo” 18th-century style. The Violin Concerto in F-sharp minor by José White Lafitte (1836-1918) was well received at its 1867 Paris premiere, yet the manuscript lay dormant at the Bibliotèque Nationale until musicologist Paul Glass uncovered and edited the score in time for a 1974 New York performance. Lafitte obviously composed the concerto to showcase his own violin virtuosity, which must have been formidable, given the solo part’s flashy yet expressive writing. Aaron Rosand’s warm singing tone and effortless technique make a compelling case for today’s young violin wizards to try their hands at this minor masterpiece.

Composed in 1816, the Requiem Mass by Brazilian composer José Mauricio Nunes Garcia (1767-1830) proves far stronger, more varied, inventive, and dramatic than his relatively inconsistent 1811 Missa Pastoni that appeared some years back on the obscure K. 617 label. Mozart’s influence pervades, most prominently in the Dies irae and the fugal Kyrie (Garcia actually led the Mozart Requiem’s Brazilian premiere in 1819), while the Offertory features two lovely extensive bass solos, sung superbly by Matti Tuloisela.

All of the collection’s 20th century composers (and one late 19th century composer) are represented at their best, although some works appeal more than others. William Grant Still’s loosely-knit Afro-American Symphony and Samuel Coleridge Taylor’s Danse Nègre are charming but dated. Of George Walker’s two major works here, I prefer the Trombone Concerto’s rhythmic unpredictability and pronounced emotional contrasts over the abrasively unmemorable Piano Concerto. By contrast, Olly Wilson’s Akwan for piano, electric piano, and amplified strings (sound clip) conveys more joyful energy and an organically freewheeling style. Perhaps it would have been better to subtitle Ulysses Kay’s “symphonic essay” Markings a ballet ,and that’s a compliment.

A disc given over to works by Panamanian composer Roque Cordero (1917-2008) may be the collection’s prize. Its centerpiece is a substantial and powerful three-movement Violin Concerto, written in 1962 for the New York Philharmonic’s violinist Sanford Allen, who plays the living daylights out of it here. Shades of Alban Berg’s songful serialism may hover over the first movement’s continuous solo/orchestra dialogues, notably in the first movement where shimmering strings support Allen’s cruelly exposed high-register musings. On the other hand, the vigorous finale’s unrelenting double stops have an asymmetric urgency that never lapses into cliché (sound clip). Granted, the coda resembles Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring as a tarantella, but it still makes a succinctly pulverizing effect. Terrence McKnight’s introductory essay discusses the Black Composers Series within its historical context, and offers short yet informative composer biographies that zero in on key career milestones. It’s good to have all of this music available again.

– ClassicsToday (Jed Distler)

Works on This Recording
1. Symphonies (2), Op. 11: no 1 in G major by Joseph Bologne Chevalier de Saint-Georges
Conductor: Paul Freeman
Orchestra/Ensemble: London Symphony Orchestra
Period: Classical
Written: by 1779 ; Paris, France
1. Quartets (6) for Strings, Op. 1: No.1 in C Major by Joseph Bologne Chevalier de Saint-Georges
Orchestra/Ensemble: Juilliard String Quartet
Period: Classical
2. Symphonie concertante for 2 Violins in G major, Op. 13 by Joseph Bologne Chevalier de Saint-Georges
Performer: Miriam Fried (Violin), Jaime Laredo (Violin)
Conductor: Paul Freeman
Orchestra/Ensemble: London Symphony Orchestra
Period: Classical
Written: by 1782 ; France
Performer: Faye Robinson (Soprano)
Conductor: Paul Freeman
Orchestra/Ensemble: London Symphony Orchestra
Period: Classical
3. Symphony no 1 "Afro-American" by William Grant Still
Conductor: Paul Freeman
Orchestra/Ensemble: London Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1930 ; USA
3. Highway One, USA: What Does He Know of Dreams? by William Grant Still
Performer: William Brown (Tenor)
Conductor: Paul Freeman
Orchestra/Ensemble: London Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
4. Hiawatha's Wedding Feast: Onaway! Awake, beloved! by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor
Conductor: Paul Freeman
Orchestra/Ensemble: London Symphony Orchestra
Period: Modern
4. Highway One, USA: You're Wonderful, Mary by William Grant Still
Performer: William Brown (Tenor)
Conductor: Paul Freeman
Orchestra/Ensemble: London Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
5. African Suite: Danse negre by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor
Conductor: Paul Freeman
Orchestra/Ensemble: London Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic
Written: 1898 ; England
5. Markings by Ulysses S. Kay
Conductor: Paul Freeman
Orchestra/Ensemble: London Symphony Orchestra
6. Concerto for Trombone by George Walker
Performer: Denis Wick (Trombone)
Conductor: Paul Freeman
Orchestra/Ensemble: London Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1957 ; USA
Performer: William Brown (Tenor), Betty Allen (Mezzo Soprano)
Conductor: Paul Freeman
7. Concerto for Violin by Roque Cordero
Performer: Sanford Allen (Violin)
Conductor: Paul Freeman
Orchestra/Ensemble: Detroit Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1962 ; Panama
8. Miniatures (8) for Small Orchestra by Roque Cordero
Conductor: Paul Freeman
Orchestra/Ensemble: Detroit Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1948 ; Panama
8. Akwan for Piano, Electronic Piano, Amplified Strings & Orchestra by Olly Wilson
Performer: Richard Bunger (Piano)
Conductor: Paul Freeman
Orchestra/Ensemble: Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
9. Sonata for Cello by David Nathaniel Baker
Performer: János Starker (Cello), Alain Planès (Piano)
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1973 ; USA
9. Squares (An Essay for Orchestra) by Thomas J. Anderson
Conductor: Paul Freeman
Orchestra/Ensemble: Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
10. Sahdji by William Grant Still
Conductor: Paul Freeman
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1930 ; USA
10. Visions of Ishwara by Talib Rasul Hakim
Conductor: Paul Freeman
Orchestra/Ensemble: Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
11. African Suite: no 1, Joyful Day by Fela Sowande
Conductor: Paul Freeman
Orchestra/Ensemble: London Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1955 ; England
11. Lift Every Voice and Sing by Traditional
Performer: William Brown (Tenor)
Conductor: Paul Freeman
12. African Suite: no 2, Nostalgia by Fela Sowande
Conductor: Paul Freeman
Orchestra/Ensemble: London Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1955 ; England
12. Jesus Lay Your Head In by Traditional
Performer: William Brown (Tenor)
Conductor: Paul Freeman
13. African Suite: no 5, Akinla by Fela Sowande
Conductor: Paul Freeman
Orchestra/Ensemble: London Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1955 ; England
13. A Change Has Got to Come by Traditional
Performer: William Brown (Tenor)
Conductor: Paul Freeman
14. Lyric for Strings by George Walker
Conductor: Paul Freeman
Orchestra/Ensemble: London Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1946/1990 ; USA
14. The Revival by Traditional
Performer: William Brown (Tenor)
Conductor: Paul Freeman
15. Concerto for Piano by George Walker
Performer: Natalie Hinderas (Piano)
Conductor: Paul Freeman
Orchestra/Ensemble: Detroit Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1975 ; USA
16. Celebration by Adolphus Hailstork
Conductor: Paul Freeman
Orchestra/Ensemble: Detroit Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1974 ; USA
17. Ritual and Incantations by Hale Smith
Conductor: Paul Freeman
Orchestra/Ensemble: Detroit Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1974 ; USA
18. Honor, Honor by Traditional
Performer: William Brown (Tenor)
Conductor: Paul Freeman
19. He Never Said a Mumbalin' Word by Traditional
Performer: William Brown (Tenor)
Conductor: Paul Freeman
20. Swing low, sweet chariot by Traditional
Performer: William Brown (Tenor)
Conductor: Paul Freeman
21. Gospel Train by Traditional
Performer: William Brown (Tenor)
Conductor: Paul Freeman
22. Let us break bread together by Traditional
Performer: William Brown (Tenor)
Conductor: Paul Freeman
23. Witness by Traditional
Performer: William Brown (Tenor)
Conductor: Paul Freeman
24. This little light of mine by Traditional
Performer: William Brown (Tenor)
Conductor: Paul Freeman
25. Deep river by Traditional
Performer: William Brown (Tenor)
Conductor: Paul Freeman
26. Symphonies (2), Op. 11: no 1 in G major by Joseph Bologne Chevalier de Saint-Georges
Conductor: Paul Freeman
Orchestra/Ensemble: London Symphony Orchestra
Period: Classical
Written: by 1779 ; Paris, France
27. Quartets (6) for Strings, Op. 1: No.1 in C Major by Joseph Bologne Chevalier de Saint-Georges
Orchestra/Ensemble: Juilliard String Quartet
Period: Classical
28. Symphonie concertante for 2 Violins in G major, Op. 13 by Joseph Bologne Chevalier de Saint-Georges
Performer: Miriam Fried (Violin), Jaime Laredo (Violin)
Conductor: Paul Freeman
Orchestra/Ensemble: London Symphony Orchestra
Period: Classical
Written: by 1782 ; France
Performer: Faye Robinson (Soprano)
Conductor: Paul Freeman
Orchestra/Ensemble: London Symphony Orchestra
Period: Classical
30. Symphony no 1 "Afro-American" by William Grant Still
Conductor: Paul Freeman
Orchestra/Ensemble: London Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1930 ; USA
31. Highway One, USA: What Does He Know of Dreams? by William Grant Still
Performer: William Brown (Tenor)
Conductor: Paul Freeman
Orchestra/Ensemble: London Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
32. Highway One, USA: You're Wonderful, Mary by William Grant Still
Performer: William Brown (Tenor)
Conductor: Paul Freeman
Orchestra/Ensemble: London Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
33. Hiawatha's Wedding Feast: Onaway! Awake, beloved! by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor
Conductor: Paul Freeman
Orchestra/Ensemble: London Symphony Orchestra
Period: Modern
34. African Suite: Danse negre by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor
Conductor: Paul Freeman
Orchestra/Ensemble: London Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic
Written: 1898 ; England
35. Markings by Ulysses S. Kay
Conductor: Paul Freeman
Orchestra/Ensemble: London Symphony Orchestra
36. Concerto for Trombone by George Walker
Performer: Denis Wick (Trombone)
Conductor: Paul Freeman
Orchestra/Ensemble: London Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1957 ; USA
37. Concerto for Violin by Roque Cordero
Performer: Sanford Allen (Violin)
Conductor: Paul Freeman
Orchestra/Ensemble: Detroit Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1962 ; Panama
38. Miniatures (8) for Small Orchestra by Roque Cordero
Conductor: Paul Freeman
Orchestra/Ensemble: Detroit Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1948 ; Panama
39. Requiem Mass by José Maurício Nunes Garcia
Performer: William Brown (Tenor), Betty Allen (Mezzo Soprano)
Conductor: Paul Freeman
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